Assisted living for comfort, conversation
Lisa Cini is one of the nation’s foremost experts on making living spaces comfortable and functional for seniors. Through Mosaic Design Studio, her firm based in Columbus, Ohio, she has been designing assisted living facilities for 25 years.
Cini is also a speaker on the subjects of design, aging and technology, and has written two books — The Future is Here: Senior Living Reimagined and Hive: The Simple Guide to Multigenerational Living.
“But more importantly,” said Cini, “I’m a wife, mother, daughter and granddaughter to a huge and loving extended family. It’s because of my desire to honor all of my family — both the ones still here and those who’ve left us — that I do this work I love so much.”
Cini said she has a simple mission: to improve the quality of life through design. “The places we live aren’t about the beautiful furnishings we put into them or the high-end design aesthetic my professional eye loves to create,” she said. “It’s about creating a home where great memories are formed through comfort, company and conversation.”
Cini said that in her business, she works hard to create beautiful, warm and inviting assisted living homes for seniors.
“I got into designing for senior living when I decided to switch from healthcare design, where I only got to impact patients for two to three days [as compared] to impacting seniors for…years,” she said.
One of the features included in the assisted living facilities she has designed is induction looping technology — a wire that is placed under the floor that allows sound from a TV or other device with sound to be picked up directly by a hearing aid. Another innovation: Toilet seats are designed to incorporate a bidet to aid self-care.
In the common areas of assisted living communities, Cini places an emphasis on good food — from demonstration kitchens where cooking classes are taught, to pubs and pizza ovens. She adds vegetable gardens, where residents can participate in raising the organic produce that will be used in the kitchen.
To make therapy pools safer, she adds a feature where bathers can walk in and have a mechanism gently lower them into the water, which is “safer and more dignified,” she said.
At the same time as she helps make assisted living more comfortable, Cini acknowledges that the majority of older adults either don’t wish to live in such communities, or don’t have the financial means to do so.
As a result, there is a need to create other solutions for how and where we are going to live as we age, or care for our loved ones who can no longer live on their own.
A four-generation household
Cini came to this realization through first-hand experience. When her now 95-year-old grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Cini and her parents knew they had to find some solutions to the coming problems her grandmother’s diagnosis might create.
“We could have moved her into an excellent care setting, but it would make seeing her much more difficult,” said Cini. “My grandmother didn’t want to be a burden, but I knew as a family we could find a way to keep her safe, loved, and with us at the same time.”
That’s when Cini and her husband, two children, parents, and grandmother all decided to move in together several years ago. Cini and her husband sold their four-story home, bought a home that was more conducive to multi-generational living, and embarked on what Cini called a “big social experiment.”
There have been challenges, Cini admitted. “You would think as a designer I should have realized what a big issue storage would be,” she said ruefully. “Where is it? How much does each person get? How can they access it? Why didn’t I think to get everyone color-coded bins?”
Then there was the issue of privacy. While Cini’s sister had felt free to visit her parents in their own home without knocking before she entered, Cini didn’t think her sister should just be able to walk into Cini’s home without letting anyone know she was coming.
“We worked through all the issues that arose,” said Cini, “but it was challenging at times.”
Learning from each other
Those challenges, though, have been offset by the many rewards, Cini said. For example, her children — who were teenagers when their grandparents and great-grandmother moved in — are “so well-adjusted,” said Cini, adding, “They can talk to anyone of any age, and they enjoy listening to my parents and grandmother share their wisdom.”
From the other side, the older generations appreciate how the kids and their friends “energize” the house. “My 78-year-old mother does Snapchat,” Cini laughed, referring to a popular app that the younger set uses to communicate with their friends.
“Our house is full of life,” said Cini. “My parents and grandmother are living life, as opposed to watching life.”
If you’re aging yourself or want to help your older loved ones age in place, Cini offers several tips (more are available in her book, Hive, and at blog.bestlivingtech.com, where you can also subscribe to her newsletter).
First, she’s a big proponent of increasing lighting to reduce risk of falls. She also recommends installing pocket doors to allow for wider access, in case a walker or wheelchair is required.
Her biggest recommendation is to embrace technology. (Cini has a website, BestLivingTech.com, that sells products to make life easier and more pleasurable — from wireless glucose monitoring devices, to health and fitness reminder devices, to robotic pets that offer companionship — they even purr and bark — without having to be walked or have their kitty litter changed.)